Kevin Costner has some big legal problems on his new movie, a Disney Western called Open Range. Costner, his production company and his partners are being sued by veteran Hollywood producer and writer Howard Dratch, who claims in court papers that he was cut out of the Range after working on it and bringing it to Costner.
Dratch's complaint cites his onetime friend and partner, a screenwriter named Craig Storper, who adapted Open Range from a novel. Dratch says he and Storper had an oral agreement that any help the former gave the latter would result in Dratch getting producer credit and Storper being the writer. Dratch says that immediately after a three hour meeting at Costner's house with agents and producers — during which Costner agreed to do the movie — Storper cut him out of the deal.
To make matters worse, Dratch also says that Costner and friends, including his producing partner Armyan Bernstein, knew of Dratch and Storper's agreement and still conspired to ice him out of the deal.
The lawsuit pits Costner, who won a Best Director Oscar in 1990 for Dances With Wolves, against Dratch, who produced last year's multiple Emmy-nominated HBO film, Path to War. The same film is currently nominated for four Golden Globe awards.
In his complaint, Dratch emphasizes that Storper was down and out when he met him, having produced just one screenplay in 1986. According to the court papers, Storper rented a house across the street from Dratch so they could work together, and when Storper ran out of money Dratch let him store his possessions in his garage. They remain there to this day.
Lawyers for Costner and Storper did not immediately return calls.
All eyes are on Costner with Open Range, the first film he's directed since the disastrous Postman in 1997. That unfortunate movie cost about $100 million to make and earned a paltry $17 million at the box office. It was met with negative reviews and derision. Since then, Costner himself has not been much of a draw, having made a string of disappointing films such as Dragonfly, Message in a Bottle, For Love of the Game, Thirteen Days and 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Open Range was described by Costner in the Hollywood Reporter last April in words that will no doubt come back to bite him, as "a poetic piece that deals with a code of friendship and people who are willing to die abiding by that code." That quote is affixed to the top of the Dratch complaint, just in case the judge doesn't understand that the case before him is about betrayal.
Dratch's biggest problem in the lawsuit is never getting a written agreement from Storper about their relationship. Nevertheless, he claims that several people, including Costner and his then agent, had met Dratch and knew of his involvement. Costner is said to have acknowledged at least that much in a letter that was subsequently sent to all the participants.
As a footnote, the legal papers also reveal a little tidbit about Costner. He seems to have changed the name of his production company, which used to be called TIG, to GOP. The letters stand for "Good Ones Productions," not Grand Old Party, even though Costner has been a staunch Republican supporter in the past.
You can't blame the Grammy committee — today's announced nominees were all they had to work with. Ashanti doesn't understand from looking at the words "Live in Paris" that the first word is an adjective, not a verb. Ashanti: it's live with a long i, meaning Diana Krall performed there, not that she had a residence there.
Then there's Avril Lavigne, who played with her hair and looked like a caricature doing the CBS post-nomination "interview." Avril had evidently never seen David Bowie's name before — she pronounced it like it was the bow of a ship.
So, where have all the rock stars gone? The only one in the this year's Grammy nominations is 53-year-old Bruce Springsteen, who received five nominations including album of the year for The Rising. He is the blatant standout in a field of incompetents. I know I sound like the old curmudgeon, but are these people supposed to be the Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon of this generation? They are an embarrassing lot — uneducated and inarticulate. There seem to be absolutely no standards whatsoever for making it in the music business now. Twenty-five years ago, this gang would have been ignored as Top 40 pop.
Of course, if they had record companies with money or anything promotional behind them, other acts could be in the Grammy's too. Wilco, Aimee Mann and lots of other "adult" acts should be in the best album category. Instead, Springsteen will win — I mean, I guess he'll win, but who can say for sure? The Rising is so far beyond the rest of those records by Norah Jones (a nice record, don't get me wrong), Dixie Chicks, Eminem and Nelly, that it doesn't seem like much of a competition.
A friend of mine insists that once music programs were cut from many public schools in the 1980s, that was the end of good pop music. Maybe she's right. There don't seem to be any composers of rock or pop music anymore. It's just all come to a stand still. Vanessa Carlton's "Thousand Miles" just combines a Billy Joel piano riff with Aaron Copland; there's no actual song there. Lavigne, who now kind of frightens me after seeing her on TV, is like a bad Alanis Morissette. Still, I'll watch the Grammy's because a) they're in New York and b) I hope Pierre Cossette, the Grammy executive producer, will include some real musicians in live segments.
I spoke to a very nice woman at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences yesterday. It turns out the decision about Honorary Oscars — the Hersholt, the Thalberg, etc. — will not be made until about Jan. 21 or so. If anyone out there is a Richard Widmark fan, then this is the time to write to the Academy and tell them that this Hollywood legend has been overlooked. Just address your letters to:
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, California 90211
Doris Day fans should do the same. (Maybe if she gets one and Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated, we'll find out they're related!)